The Six Ts of Effective Elementary Literacy Instruction by Richard Allington

Reading Rockets

Richard Allington has been a reading researcher and scholar for more than 30 years. In early 2000 he published an article that focused on the 6 T’s (talk, text, task…and time, teach, test) that reflected the reading instruction framework of successful literacy teachers. Noted below are several excerpts, (in quotations and italics) interspersed with my comments.

Based on extensive research at the first and fourth grade levels, he and his colleagues observed, interviewed, and videotaped exemplary teachers and teaching over hundreds of days in schools across from six states that enrolled substantial numbers of poor children representing a wide range of ethnic and linguistic diversity.

He found six factors that distinguished these exemplary teachers. Three of these reflect the Talk-Text-Task Framework of the Reading Pyramid described in an earlier blog.


The “who,” “what,” and “how” of talking matters. Allington addresses three important aspects of talk: who does the talking, the nature of the talking (conversational) and what they talk about.

“….We saw fundamental differences in the nature of the classroom talk in the exemplary teachers’ classrooms and the talk typically reported in classroom observational studies. First, we observed these teachers fostering much more student talk – teacher-student, student-student – than has been previously reported. In other words, these exemplary teachers encouraged, modeled, and supported lots of talk across the school day. This talk was purposeful talk though, not simply chatter. This talk was problem-posing, problem-solving talk related to curricular topics (Allington & Johnston, 2002; Johnston, Woodisde-Jiron & Day, 2001).

It wasn’t just more talk but a different sort of talk than is commonly heard in classrooms. We described this difference as “more conversational than interrogational.” Much previous work has well-documented the interrogational nature of most classroom talk. Teachers pose questions, children respond, teacher verifies or corrects. That is the dominant pattern observed in study after study, grade after grade (Cazden, 1988; Nystrand, 1997).

The classroom talk we observed was more often of a conversational nature than an interrogational nature. In other words, teachers and students discussed ideas, concepts, hypotheses, strategies, and responses with others. The questions teachers posed were more “open” questions, where multiple responses would be appropriate…”


It matters what kinds of texts we ask students to read. Allington notes that children need to “read” texts they can actually read. And they need to spend enough time reading those texts.


“In these classrooms, lower-achieving students spent their days with books they could successfully read. This has not typically been the case in less effective classrooms (Allington, 1983). In too many schools, the lower-achieving readers receive appropriate reading materials only when they participate in special support instruction (e.g., special education resource rooms, Title 1 in-class support, bilingual education block). In other words, in too many cases the lower-achieving students receive, perhaps, an hour of appropriate instruction each day and four hours of instruction based on grade-level texts they cannot read. No child who spends 80 percent of his instructional time in texts that are inappropriately difficult will make much progress academically.


“These teachers” seemed to notice that motivation for reading was dramatically influenced by student reading success. They acted on these observations by creating multi-level, multi-sourced curriculum that met the needs of the diverse range of students in their classrooms.”


It matters why children are reading. Reading cannot simply be done to complete the reading or even to answer factual questions. Students need to see reading as a significant part of learning and interacting with the world. The tasks that we ask children to do in connection with reading “assignments” needs to engage them in reading what they text says but go beyond that to the meaning and use they make of the information and ideas.

“Another characteristic of these exemplary teachers’ classrooms was the greater use of longer assignments and reduced emphasis on filling the day with multiple, shorter tasks. In these classrooms, students often worked on a writing task for ten days or more. They read whole books, completed individual and small group research projects, and worked on tasks that integrated several content areas (reading, writing, and social studies).

The work these children in these classrooms completed was more substantive, more challenging, and required more self-regulation than the work that has been more commonly observed in elementary classrooms…..

Relatedly, the tasks assigned often involved choice – student choice. We described the instructional environment as one of “managed choice.” Students did not have an unlimited range of task or topic choices, but it was less common to find every student doing the same task and more common to observe students working on similar but different tasks. For instance, in a fourth-grade unit on insects, each child caught and brought that insect to class. They then sketched the insect using magnifying glasses to discover detail. These sketches were then labeled for body parts (thorax, abdomen, antennae, etc.). Students also observed the insect in its natural environment and jotted field notes about observed behaviors and habits. They wrote a short description based on these notes and constructed a model of the insect from craft materials. Finally, they presented their insect to classmates and then posted their sketches, models, and descriptions on the classroom wall where classmates could review and study the insect projects….”

I hope you will read the full article by clicking on the link at the beginning of this post.

Dialogue and Reading: Talk, Text, Task

Dialogue and Reading

There are several contemporary and classic resources that address the talk-text-task relationship for learners from age 2 to grade 2 and beyond. Dialogic reading with picture books is a great starting place for children as young as 2. Whitehurst’s work described in the previous blog gives parents and preschool teachers a place to start. But dialogic reading is not just for preschoolers. Recently David Pearson in a video talk titled “Rich Talk and Text” described the importance of “rich talk.” He does not discount the importance of good decoding and word recognition, nor good fluency, nor comprehension skills and strategies (such as “reciprocal teaching” and “transactional strategies instruction”). He goes on to say,

“It’s comprehension, understanding, enjoyment and insight for every child—those are the real goals we have or our reading instruction. Hence the role of rich talk about text….”

He goes on to describe the conversational “roles” assumed, not just by teachers, but by the students that determine the effectiveness and quality of the talk. He uses Freebody and Luke’s “Four Literacy Resources” to describe these roles.

“When you’re dealing with the text at hand, you might say the read is a “decoder.” When you’re dealing with interpretation establishing relationships amongst the idea in a text and relating those to ideas to things you already know about, that’s the “meaning-maker.” And, when you’re getting readers to understand the uses to which a text is put, or you’re trying to get readers to evaluate the moves that the author has made, then you’re in the “user” or “critic” role.”  [I would add the role of “process manager” given the importance of learners understanding the processes involved in choosing and managing text if they are to become independent readers.]

Next Pearson offers support for this framework through a meta-analysis by Murphy based on hundreds of reviews of classroom discussions and research about classroom discussions. These analyses showed that it mattered who did the talking and what they talked about.

“There’s a lot of evidence that you get what you pay for, especially for critical thinking and what this means is that if you emphasized text-based comprehension, kids got better at that; if you emphasized aesthetic and expressive comprehension, kids got better at that. And kids never got better at critical thinking or critical response to a text unless you went for it very, very directly…”

“When a teacher promoted higher level talk about text and here, what I mean by that, is less of the literal stuff and more of the meaning-making and more of the critical analysis, that is always the predicted achievement. It didn’t matter whether it was a first grade classroom or a fifth grade classroom or a sixth grade classroom; it didn’t matter whether it was a rich school or a poor school; we almost always got that relationship….

Pearson offers a chart to show the kinds of conversational moves with definitions and examples that promote these meaning-making and critical analysis conversations. He ends his discussion with advice about the use of “gradual release of responsibility” whereby a teacher moves from explicit instructor to conversational participant.

“….you might say that your role as a teacher is one of a participant—you’re just participating in the classroom environment in those discussions just like everyone else. Then we know that students are taking control of the conversations and responsibility for their understanding of texts.”

This presentation is well worth the time to read (Published 2010)! Here is the link

And here are other links to Dr. Pearson’s work: PP

Coming next, the work of Richard Allington, whose research and writings span more than 30 years, including the article written in 2002 and published by Reading Rockets. The 6 T’s of Effective Reading Instruction.